Veterans testify about health care concerns

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Veteran Army Sgt. James Powers had the undivided attention of a U.S. Senator and a room full of veterans.

“When I came home from Iraq in 2010 my transition, like many others, didn’t go well,” Powers said. “My life for the next 4 years slowly spiraled out of control.”

Powers was testifying at a hearing of the Senate Veterans Committee conducted by Sen Sherrod Brown at the Columbus Metropolitan Library Tuesday. Brown said he wanted to hear the concerns of local veterans and veterans services officials.

One of the central themes in witness testimony focused on the difficulties veterans face in making the transition from active duty back to civilian life.

Powers described his struggle with chronic pain, drugs and alcohol and PTSD. “Until finally on a Tuesday morning in May of 2014 when I had no other choice, I thought, I put a pistol in my mouth and pulled the trigger. Click. It misfired.”

Powers went on to credit a VA program on substance abuse with helping him but said such programs need to be more readily available.

Regional VA Healthcare director Robert McDivitt says average of 20 or more veterans commit suicide every day but only about a third of them are VA patients. He says the VA has made the issue of veteran suicide a top priority. “We are very aggressively treating that,” McDivitt said. “We are starting a tele-suicide line where high-risk veterans will be able to be connected to a provider via smartphone or iPad.”

Sen. Brown says the VA needs to do a better job of staying connecting with veterans. “If they’re getting treatment in the VA, the suicide rate is significantly lower than in they have sort of walked away or been abandoned or ignored by the VA,” Brown said.

Brown said holding field hearings is important, “because the best ideas don’t come out of Washington – they come from conversations like the ones we had today, with the women  and men who serve our country, and the VA officials who serve them.”

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